Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Cookies

This is a silly little story but I like it.

Amanda’s mother hosted a party on Christmas Eve. We all had a very nice time, enjoyed tasty food and good company. On the way home we stopped to pick up a cake ordered for our own family gathering on Christmas day. The bakery we use is called Big Joy Family and it’s our favorite in San Diego. We happened upon the place quite by accident a couple of years ago, it being next to a Vietnamese restaurant we go to from time to time. Whenever we have a family function Big Joy Family is our go to place for cakes. All of which really has nothing to do with this story except for my own self-serving motivations; I really would be sad to see them go out of business.

Anyway, I walk into the bakery, leaving Amanda and the boys in the car. The woman who runs the place goes to the back to get our cake. She brings it out, beautifully decorated. As I’m about to turn and leave she offers me Christmas cookies for Alex and Sam. Once back in the car I tell the boys the nice lady from the bakery gave me cookies and they could have them for dessert when we get home. Which reminds me of something. I tell Amanda we need to stop on the way to get cookies for Santa. Sam is two and didn’t pay it any mind. Alex, on the other hand, is six and took note of what I said. He thought about it a bit and then, in a very serious voice, volunteers to give up his Christmas sugar cookie so Santa could have it. Amanda and I looked at each other and smiled. I told him it was okay, we would stop at the supermarket near our house so Santa could have his own cookies.

It was a holiday filled with many wonderful moments but I think this was my favorite.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tis The Season: Christmas Themed Original Art

It’s Christmas Eve and I thought I’d share a few pieces of art that touch upon the holiday.

First up is a Chuck Jones storyboard from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, adapted from the classic Dr. Seuss tale. This is the moment when the Grinch discovers the meaning of Christmas. Love them stars!Bil Keane’s Family Circus has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. Sure the strip is corny, but it also has a genuine warmth that appeals to me. Several of my friends also appreciate my fondness for Keane’s work--because it gives them endless opportunities to mock me. This particular daily reminds me of my son, Sam.Dan DeCarlo, to me, was the quintessential Betty & Veronica artist. He was to Archie what Jack Kirby was to Marvel and Carl Barks was to Ducks. This cover showcases his wonderful sense of humor. Dan was a real character, he always reminded me of the guy who would chase the secretary around a desk at the company Christmas party. But I imagined that if he caught her he’d talk about his wife, Josie. I miss Dan; he was a terrific guy.Reid Fleming, the World’s Toughest Milkman, isn’t generally associated with Christmas; David Boswell, in his unique way, manages to capture the spirit of the season.Dick Moores stepped into some big shoes when he took over Gasoline Alley from Frank King. A lesser talent would have stumbled along; Moores danced to a different tune but it was nearly as beautiful.Here's a nice piece of art that my best friend, Shawn McManus, did for me nearly 20 years ago. It’s one of a series of original art ads that ran in the Comics Buyers Guide. I wish the scan did the delicate line work justice.If you feel like exploring more original comic art, holiday themed or not, check out comicartfans; it's a great way to pass an hour or two.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday and a fine new year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Godson

In the early 1980s, when I was 19, I lived in New York City on the Upper East Side. Like so many people who make their living in this business, at one time I had a job in a comic book store. The name was Action Comics and it was on Second Avenue between 84th and 85th streets. It was a fairly new business and I was the only employee aside from Stephen, the owner. I had already started dealing a bit in original art and one of the perks of working at the shop was being able to display and sell art.

One day a teenager walks in, maybe 13 or 14, and we start talking about comic art. He was a smart kid, I sort of remember him being better dressed than the usual comic fans. He had come in before and liked some of the art that was hanging in the poster rack and now wanted to buy some. He picked out a page or two and paid with $50 bills. It didn’t strike me as odd because this was an affluent neighborhood and it wasn’t out of the norm for kids to have that kind of cash, usually from birthdays or bar Mitzvahs. Over the next couple of weeks he came in a few times and bought more art.

A couple of days after the kid’s last purchase I was in the shop and the phone rang. A woman’s voice that seemed vaguely familiar came over the line and asked to speak with Scott. I told her I was Scott and she said, “Hi, Scott, this is Shelley Winters.” I recognized the voice as soon as she said her name. It was a surreal moment, I had never talked to an Academy Award winning actress before, let alone have one call me. I said hello Ms. Winters and asked what I could do for her. She asked me if her godson had been coming in to the store to buy art and paying with $50 bills. I said, “Why yes, he has been.” Sounding relieved, she said “Oh good. He’s been stealing that money from me but I was afraid he was buying drugs.” We talked for a few more minutes, about her godson. He was a good kid, she said, but he needed a friend. She asked me if I could take him to a baseball game sometime, do something with him. I politely declined; he seemed like a nice boy but I was 19 and had a girlfriend and didn’t want to hang out with a kid.

I never heard from Shelley Winters or her godson again. Their story became one of a number of anecdotes I would tell to friends from time to time. But these things have a limited shelf life; new stories gradually made their way to the front of my mind and I told this one less and less. Eventually it fell out of the rotation entirely. I didn’t give Shelley Winters and her godson much thought at all for a very long time, until I saw this blog by Dean Haspiel.

As I read about the death of Dean’s godmother I put two and two together; he was the boy who bought the art from me all those years ago. I felt sad for his loss but couldn’t help but be amused by the revelation. I told my pal Heidi MacDonald about it and we shared a laugh. It wasn’t the kind of story I would widely spread, it didn’t exactly cast Dean in the best light, but it was okay between a couple of discreet friends.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Heidi and I were once again talking, I was filling her in on my soon-to-be-launched blog. Immediately she said I should run the Dean Haspiel/Shelley Winters story. I wasn’t so sure. I had already decided not to recount anything that would hurt someone’s feelings or damage a reputation; I felt this fell into both categories. Heidi told me that Dean had a good sense of humor and he would find it funny. Since a fair amount of time had passed since his godmother’s death, I decided it couldn’t hurt to give him a ring.

I called Dean and we had a brief chat, got reacquainted. Dean and I don’t know each other very well but we had spoken a couple of years ago about a project at WS. While the book didn’t work out we parted on good terms. Then I dove in and told him about my blog--and that one of the stories I was toying with writing involved him. Understandably, he was surprised; as I said, we don’t have a lot of history together. I tentatively asked Dean if he remembered that we had met before, many years ago in New York. He did not. I asked if he remembered Action Comics. He vaguely did. I asked if he remembered buying some comic art there when he was a kid. He thought about it and said he never had. He said it in such a way that it left little room for doubt. Now I was perplexed; it’s one thing to not recall something, it’s another to be sure you didn’t do it. I laid all my cards on the table. None of it sounded familiar to him…until I got to the part about Shelly Winters and her godson. That triggered a realization; Dean hadn’t been that young boy who so worried his godmother--it was his brother, Mike.

Dean told me about Mike, how he had been stricken with Juvenile Diabetes at a young age and had experimented with a variety of drugs. Hence the phone-call from Ms. Winters; She really was relieved to hear he had bought art with the money instead of drugs. I asked how his brother was doing. Dean told me he had passed away a couple of years ago from complications of his condition, with his history of drug abuse being a contributing factor.

I told Dean I was sorry if this brought back any painful memories but he said it was okay. He had never heard the story before and he said it made his brother come alive for him again, if only for an instant; he was grateful for that. Then Dean asked if I would run the story in my blog. I told him I didn’t think so, that before it was just some goofy little story with a happy ending. Now it was something else entirely. Dean said he’d be okay with me writing it up if I wanted to. We left it at me seeing if I could manage to do it in a way I thought was appropriate. I had my doubts.

Last week I got an e-mail from Dean. He told me he had been reading my blog and liked it. Then he asked if I planned on running the anecdote or if it was canned. I thought about it a bit and wrote back saying I would give it a shot; if I was happy with the results I would send it to him. He replied, “Yeah, take a crack at it and see what you can come up with. No need to play it too safe…Just be kind and fair.”

So I started writing. I don’t know how happy I am with the way this has turned out but, if Dean agrees, I will post it. I can’t help feeling guilty. I know that probably sounds odd, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just taken Mike out to Yankee Stadium on the #4 train and watched a couple of games.

Mike and Dean Haspiel, circa early 1970s

The last photo of the Haspiel Brothers

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Me, Mignola, And The Corpse

In the early 90s Mike Mignola and I used to go out to lunch on a fairly regular basis. At one point neither of us were able to get together for five or six weeks but we still talked often enough. In that span of time Mike was working on a 24 page Hellboy story that was going to be serialized in the old Capital City order form (anyone remember when we used to have more than one distributor?), two pages monthly for a year.

When Mike and I talked he would go on about how very badly the story was coming. Week after week I’d hear about his career being finished; not only was this the worst thing he had ever done but he was sure he’d completely lost his ability to draw. Bear in mind that this went on every couple of nights for about six weeks. All the relentless negative reinforcement eventually wore me down. By the time we were going to get together for our long-overdo lunch I was convinced; I knew the story would be bad, I just hoped I would be able to find something--anything--positive to say.

We met at a natural food place down on Spring Street and Mike handed me a manila envelope with a stack of lettered copies in it. “Here, read it,” he said. So I read it. And as I did, Mike sat across from me sweating. When I finished I started to laugh. He looked at me with something close to terror in his eyes. Mike has a very expressive voice, there really isn’t any way to describe it; you need to hear it to understand, especially when he’s doing his characters. Anyone who has spoken to him for more than five minutes knows what I mean. Now, in panic mode, his voice was something akin to a high-pitched shriek. “What’s wrong?!” he asked. “You,” I said. “Why?!” “Because”, I told him, “you are a $%#@ing idiot.” “WHHYYY?!” he cried. “Because not only is this the best story you’ve ever done but it is probably the best story you will ever do.” Mike sat back in his seat and in a voice calm and sure, and with no room for doubt, said “You’re nuts.”

We sat there and ate lunch and disagreed on the story. Me telling him it was brilliant, him saying I was crazy and that is was awful. I even tried to buy the art from him (for my collection) but Mike felt it was so bad he didn’t want to foist it on anyone. He wasn’t fishing for praise; Mike honestly thought it was the worst thing he had ever done and that he had lost any meager talent once possessed. But, of course, he was wrong. The story in question was The Corpse and I still think it’s the best job Mike has ever done.

Years pass. Mike and Christine (who, by the way, is as benevolently patient a wife as my own) moved to the west coast. I did too shortly after, but further south. Mike and I didn’t talk as much after we left New York but we’d catch up when our paths crossed. One year, at the Chicago comic convention, I was with Mike and a few other people at the hotel bar. We’re all talking about various topics and suddenly he says, “The best story I ever did was The Corpse.” I remember being surprised as I said “The Corpse? When I told you that was the best thing you ever did you said I was crazy.” Mike looked at me, as calm and sure and matter of fact as he was at our lunch in New York, and said “Craig Russell told me it was the best story I ever did.”

A few years ago I was sitting in my (now former) office at WildStorm and Mike called me up out of the blue. He said that I was the first person to tell him how good The Corpse was and he wanted to thank me. He said he’d like to give me a page of my choice from the story. It was a wonderful act of kindness and I was touched. I asked if I could think about it and call him in a day or two; this would be a tough decision to make. He said sure. A few days later I called Mike back and asked about a couple of pages, specifically the ones with the mother and baby at the beginning of the story. It turned out he had traded those, of course, to Craig Russell. My alternatives were the pages with Jenny Greenteeth stealing the Corpse’s arm. Mike had both but I couldn’t make up my mind which to choose, the consecutive pair made such a great sequence. I asked if he would consider selling me the second one so I could have the scene in its entirety. Mike, in a slightly grumpy voice, tells me he’ll just give me both pages. I ask him if he’s sure, that I’d be happy to pay for the second page. He says no, that he’ll give me both. I thank him for his great generosity and ask that he remember to inscribe them to me. To which Mike, in a classic Mignola curmudgeon moment, says, “Inscribe them? Won’t that make it more difficult to SELL them?!”

Less than a week later a package arrived with the two pages inside. They were beautiful. And Mike did go ahead and put an inscription after all: “To Scott--with great appreciation--Mignola.” Oh well, guess I’m stuck with them now.

The Corpse by Mike Mignola

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cheap At Twice The Price

As a comic art dealer I would occasionally buy entire collections, sometimes hundreds of pieces at a time. There would usually be a few pages that weren’t the most desirable to collectors: not having main characters, be drawn by a less than stellar artist, that sort of thing. Eventually I had a fair sized stack of these, my own little Island of Misfit Art that never got put out for sale at any of the shows. So, as a goof, I started taking a few of these pages to conventions and mixing them into the stacks of art that weren’t in display portfolios. On the back of these, where I’d normally write the price in pencil, I’d scribble “FREE” on them. From time to time someone would happily come up to me and claim their “purchase.”

Once, during a slow stretch at a convention, I noticed a guy looking through a pile of art. He was very deliberate as he scanned over each page and then turned them over to check the price. Bored, I watched for a few minutes until he got to the free page. He picked it up and gave it the once over. Then, like all the others, he looked at the back of the page for the damage. He stopped for a minute...and then he put it back in the pile and continued on with his meticulous inspection. Guess he just thought it was overpriced…

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

P. Craig Russell's Art Collection

Filmmaker Wayne Alan Howard is working on a P. Craig Russell documentary. There is a clip on youtube that has Craig giving an insightful tour of his art collection and discussing a number of pieces. I especially enjoyed his comments on Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy strips and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy pages. Do yourself a favor and click here to see it. The finished film promises to be something special.

Also, if any of you are fans of American Splendor, Wayne has posted a number of shorts featuring the legendary Toby. You can check them out here. It’s really great stuff.

Then go and visit Craig’s wonderful website, found here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hold The Ham

Back in the early 90s I was still in New York City and making my living as a comic art dealer. One day I got a call from an editor at Marvel Comics who was trying to help a young freelancer find an agent to sell his originals. The artist was new to comics and didn’t know the ins and outs of the business. The editor, wanting to help a raw newbie out, contacted Al Williamson (whom he had worked with) to see if he could recommend a dealer that would treat the guy right. Al suggested me, which was why I got the call. The editor spoke in glowing terms of the artist; he had a lot of potential, if he worked hard he could make a name for himself. I told the editor I’d be happy to look at his work and said “What’s this kids name?” The editor replied, “Stan Drake.” A bit surprised, I asked if he had ever met the young Mr. Drake in person or if their dealings were exclusively on the phone and through the mail. It was the latter. Which made sense. For those of you who have never heard of the great Stan Drake, he began his career a number of years before I, or his editor, were born. But, while Mr. Marvel may not have been up on his comic history, his heart was very much in the right place.

Which reminds me of a story from roughly the same time, one that peripherally involves Stan Drake. I was meeting a fellow comic art dealer by the name of Al Czarnecki. Al is one of the good guys in comic art, a straight shooter. Anyway, Al had bought 600 Heart of Juliet Jones strips and asked if I would be interested in going in for half. It’s not every day you are offered 300 Stan Drake strips at a good price so I readily accepted. The plan was for Al to come in from New Jersey with the art and we would meet at a local Brew & Burger to have lunch and finalize the deal. A Brew and Burger, for those who have never been to one, is pretty much what it sounds like: A coffee shop with dark wood.

So Al and I meet at B & B, both armed with portfolios, and sit down in a roomy booth—the better to spread out big piles of art. The waiter comes over to take our order and Al goes first. When it’s my turn I ask for a grilled cheese sandwich with fries. At the time I was a vegetarian, had been for about a year and a half after reading a book called Diet For A New America. Not being a salad guy this was pretty much my default diner meal. Should be pretty simple, never had a problem with it before or after. Except this time the waiter says “We don’t do that.” I look up at him, not getting what he means, and ask what they don’t do. He says “Grilled cheese sandwiches, we don’t do that.” I laugh and say something along the lines of “Come on, it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.” Again, he says no, they don’t do that. So I open up the menu and scan the sandwich listings. Finding what I want I say, “Give me the grilled ham and cheese…” I waited a beat as he dutifully scribbled it down “…hold the ham.” I swear, he nearly doubled over. He raised his voice and said emphatically “We don’t do that!” He then went into this odd little tirade saying he had traveled all over the world, he had been to France and eaten butter on sandwiches—whatever that meant. I felt like I had wandered into an outtake from Five Easy Pieces. I looked at him and said, “Just go over to the cook and give him the order, he’ll make it.” Brew & Burger had one of those traditional diner set-ups, an open view to the kitchen and the spinning wheel where tickets are hung. Our server indignantly marches over to the wheel and says in a voice that got louder as he spoke “There’s some guy out here who wants a grilled ham and cheese…WITHOUT THE HAM!!” To which the cook evenly replies, “A grilled cheese sandwich, no problem.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

My Brilliant Criminal Career Part Three

After leaving Lenny and New Orleans behind me I started making my way north towards home. On the trip up, I planned to visit a friend who lived in Grand Bay Alabama. His name was John and around this time he would be moving to California and then getting married. Unfortunately, while I had his address, I didn’t have his phone number with me; not knowing the exact timetable for his plans it was a 50/50 proposition whether he would still be there.

I got a lift to Grand Bay and asked directions at a gas station to John’s address. It was about five miles, but the day was nice and I was young. An hour and a half later I knocked on the front door of his house but there was no answer. A neighbor confirmed he had moved the previous week. There was nothing to do but start that long walk back to the highway.

On the way I stopped at a little store, not much more than a shack, and bought a seven ounce bottle of Coke and a pack of peanuts. I enjoyed my snack while walking and when done, since there were no trashcans to be found, I stuck both in my pocket. Nearing the highway I noticed a sound and looked back; about 20 feet behind was a police car, matching my pace and slowly following me. There was nothing to do but keep on walking.

Shortly we came to the Stuckey’s that sat by the highway. If you’ve been to the south you’ve been to a Stuckey’s Pecan Candy Shoppe. I walked into the parking lot and threw away the trash that had been sitting in my back pocket for the last hour. Which, of course, prompted screeching tires and sirens. As the dust settled, three enormous cops exited the vehicle, pulling their pants up as they did. The first of the trio asked “what you throwing in that trash can, boy?” to which I replied “trash.” When further quizzed on the details I gave a more accurate accounting. The second cop then inspected the evidence and said, “He’s right, Slim.” The last one asked if I knew there was a three-cent deposit on the bottle. I told him he could have it. The first cop wanted to know why I didn’t “just throw it in the street like everybody else?” I don’t remember what I said but they were the words of an idealistic youth spouting off about the environment. That was the final straw; he said, “You got five minutes to get out of my state.”

I walked to the highway, looking back to see if my friends would come and arrest me for hitchhiking. Apparently they were more interested in my leaving than for me to become a guest of the county. After a few minutes a car stopped and, even though there was purple shag carpeting and chicken bones sewn on the ceiling, I got in. But only until the next exit, where I eventually found a more comfortable ride, free of dead poultry. A couple of days later I was back home.

These last three blogs have concentrated on a thin slice of my long ago trip to New Orleans. The wider pie was something wonderful. Like the first time I had grits in what must have been the worlds biggest truck stop; or walking down Bourbon street at the height of Mardi Gras festivities, throwing beads at girls on veranda’s; completely by accident coming across the warehouse housing all the beautiful floats for the parades and sneaking in to explore. These are all cherished memories that I won’t share now; but if you run across me at a show sometime feel free to ask—I’d be happy to relive them for you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Brilliant Criminal Career Part Two

It took about an hour to make my way over to the part of town where I was staying. After getting off the bus I walked through deserted streets, stopping at a 24-hour market to get a drink; I was parched. Back outside, Gatorade in hand, my night was finally coming to an end. Or so I thought.

Now on the same block as the house, I noticed a police car driving slowly in the opposite direction. Suddenly everything was screeching tires and flashing lights. Apparently they took note of me also. As the patrol car came to a rest on the sidewalk in front of me, two officers crouched behind their doors with drawn guns pointed at me. Arms and Gatorade raised, I asked what I did. While being handcuffed and put in the backseat they told me it was illegal to have an open glass bottle on a public street. If only I had the foresight to drink my Gatorade from a plain paper bag. So once again I found myself en route to central booking. The cop in the passenger seat asked me where I was from. I told him New York and he turned back in his seat and muttered “Goddamn Yankee werewolves coming down here and ruining our Mardi Gras.” Back I went to the Ticketron lines, with presumably a different crowd of customers standing with me, once again waiting to pay $50 bail to get out. I didn’t bother making a phone call this time.

There was a baseball player in the 1930s named Johnny Vander Meer who holds what I believe is the only baseball record that will never be broken. People can talk all they want of great batting and pitching records. Someday Joe Dimaggio’s consecutive game hitting streak will fall. But no one will ever break Johnny Vander Meer’s record of two consecutive no-hitters. You know why? Because to break it someone would have to throw three consecutive no-hitters. Which just ain’t gonna happen. And this is how I used to look at being arrested twice in one day; it could never be surpassed because to break that record you would need to be arrested three times in one day--and how the Hell could that happen? I have since learned that this is not as uncommon as one might think. Go figure. So maybe Mr. Vander Meer should be looking over his shoulder after all.

By the time I got back to their house the sun was coming up. We couldn’t raise the $500 for a bail bond to get him out so he sat in jail through Fat Tuesday, which is the big day of Mardi Gras. I showed up for my court appearance indigent as only an 18 year old can be. When the judge called my name I stood up and walked forward. My friend was brought out and he stood next to me, wearing handcuffs and in obvious pain. We both pled not guilty and a trial date was set for the following month. Before Mr. 49 Chevy was taken back to jail I told him I would come back to testify on his behalf, tell the court what really happened. He looked at me with none of the bravado from days earlier. He said he was afraid they would hurt him, maybe even kill him, if he tried to press charges; he wanted to drop it and get on with his life. After he was taken back to the lockup I saw the bailiff to get paperwork for the new court date. I remember telling him I would return to fight the charges against me. He looked at me like someone who had seen way too many people who just didn’t understand the world. He said “Kid, are you crazy? If you don’t come back they’ll just fine you the $50 bail you already paid and it’ll be done.” Of course he was right but it took a while to sink in.

As I was heading towards the door I heard my name called for the second time that morning in the court—I had completely forgotten about my big Gatorade caper. I turned to face the judge again. He looked down on me with some disdain and said in an annoyed voice “you again?” Finally, inexplicably, when I told him my story reason actually prevailed; he said it was an antiquated statute for which it was ridiculous to be arrested. He threw the case out. 24 hours later, between me, Lenny and his girlfriend, we were finally able to raise the $500 to get a bail bond and spring the Chevy man.

A couple of days later Lenny and I left New Orleans, and for reasons I can’t recall we went in different directions. He was heading west and I was going home, to New York. Once again I was standing on a road with my thumb out in search of a ride, this time by myself. I was looking forward to an uneventful trip home. Yeah, right.

Final chapter goes up on Friday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Brilliant Criminal Career Part One

Okay, I warned you. This is the first of several completely non-comics related posts. Read at your own risk.

In 1981, when I was 18, my friend Lenny and I hitchhiked to New Orleans from New York City to attend the Mardi Gras. It was a cold January and we decided we needed to enjoy some warmer climes. Most of the journey was courtesy of a long-haul trucker that stopped for us near Newark Airport. In between dozing off at the wheel he would regale us with stories of sex-crazed college girls he supposedly had brief affairs with when he’d pick them up hitchhiking. I remember he offered to let us crash in the back of his cab but neither Lenny nor I wanted to risk falling asleep for fear he would as well. More than once we had to grab the wheel as he drifted off to dreamland.

He dropped us off on the outskirts of New Orleans and our thumbs went out one more time, searching for that home stretch ride. It came in the form of a 1949 red Chevy pickup truck. I’m not a car guy but this was a thing of beauty. We climbed into the back and started off towards downtown. On the way, our benefactor asked where we were from. When I told him we’d hitched down from New York for the Mardi Gras he asked if we had a place to stay. We told him no and, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, he offered us a place to stay, which we happily accepted. Lenny and I enjoyed the company of our new friends (whose names sadly escape me after all this time) for the better part of a week. They were nice people, not very well off, who freely opened their home to us and shared what they had.

At some point I wound up in the middle of the French Quarter, a day or two before Fat Tuesday, with Mr. 49 Chevy. We were enjoying ourselves, just driving around, until his truck developed engine trouble. We stalled out in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, so we get out to push it off to the side. As we maneuver the vehicle towards the curb, three cops standing in front of a hotel on the corner start calling out for us to “get that piece of shit” out of the road.

Now, I’m from New York, I’ve seen my share of incidents involving the police. My instincts generally tell me to keep a civil tone when speaking to law enforcement types, and never to yell at them. Unfortunately my friend wasn’t quite as discreet. His reaction to their verbal abuse was to yell back, in an equally obnoxious manner. Oh, did I mention both of us had hair below our shoulders? I guess it was guilt by proximity because the next thing I know we are being handcuffed and arrested.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than take us to the patrol car parked next to them, the three members of New Orleans finest bring us into the hotel. We get hauled along to the elevator and taken down to the garage. Okay, I think, their car is parked there. Except they walk us over to the attendants office and knock on the door. When it opens three pairs of eyes look out, taking in the motley crew before them. Then, without a word, the three vacate the office and the five of us go in.

To say I was scared wouldn’t quite describe it. There was a sense of dread that only deepened as I was shoved into a chair off to the corner and my none-too-bright chum once again started to mouth off to the cops. He got about three words out before the first nightstick hit him in the head. The beating must have gone on for a minute or two but it felt much longer. At one point one of the boys in blue poked me in the back of the head with a pen and asked if I wanted some of this. “No, officer” I replied.

Several minutes later I was escorted out of the room, followed by my friend who was dragged. We were tossed into the patrol car that we passed earlier and taken to central booking. I had never been arrested before so I had no idea what to expect. When we arrived we were split up; I was placed in a line that reminded me of a ticketron, one of those places where you buy concert tickets. There were more than a dozen windows with long queues stemming from each. In the front of each line was a payphone; I was told I could make a call. I had the 50 bucks in my pocket so I could make bail; I didn’t need to call anyone to get me out. But when faced with such a surreal situation I needed to share the moment with someone. I called my friend Sonja and had a short but funny chat with her. I then paid my bail and was given information on when and where I should report to court, in three days time. I was being charged with being drunk and disorderly. Which, given the situation, seemed appropriate; I hadn’t had a drink all day. Mr. 49 Chevy, I was told, was being held on $5,000 bail; His charges were longer than mine, it seems he broke three of his ribs while resisting arrest.

When I was finally released it was close to midnight. I got on a bus and started back to my friend’s house.

Part two goes up tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2007

American Idol Heidi

I love Heidi McDonald. She’s smart, funny, and a good person. She also may be the one person on Earth who can make my singing voice sound good. My dog cried when I played this. If you don’t believe me click here.

Send your write-in votes now!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Michael Moorcock: Found in Translation

A few years ago I had the good fortune to work with Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway on a Tom Strong story. While it’s always a pleasure to have Jerry draw any comic, it was a special treat to have Michael write it. His stories really hit me as a teenager, especially Behold The Man, which I read at just the right age for it to make a lasting impression.

Michael and I enjoyed several friendly chats during the course of our working relationship, mostly about old comics. On one such occasion he told me a wonderful story of his unofficial stint as writer of the Tarzan newspaper strip, and how he entered into a creative partnership with the likes of Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth--the catch being it was a full 10-20 odd years after those strips initially saw print.

I sent Michael an e-mail recently asking if he would mind recounting that tale again for me so I could share it on this blog. He graciously agreed and forwarded a fine remembrance of the events that would lead to this most unusual collaboration, the details of which begin here:

In the mid-to-late 1950s I was working on Tarzan Adventures in the UK. The magazine was fronted every week by a Tarzan strip reprinted from both daily and Sunday newspaper strips bought from, as I recall, Universal Features Syndicate. I was a great fan of both Foster's and Hogarth's Tarzan but absolutely hated Rex Maxon's, so I did everything I could not to buy Maxon-drawn strips. Eventually the time came when we ran out of available Hogarth (we'd never run Foster for some reason) material and I begged the syndicate for some older Foster or Hogarth material. None was available. The plates from which we worked had been destroyed in an incendiary attack during World War 2.

Wasn't there ANYTHING we could use, I asked the Syndicate chief in London. He was sorry, he said, but the only plates still known to exist were in Spanish. My publisher shrugged his shoulders. "Well, that's that," he told me. "It's got to be Maxon or nothing." I was desperate not to use Maxon. I was seventeen years old and at that time had only been to France for a few weeks and never traveled anywhere else, nor spoken any other language, but desperation made me come up with a lie. "Oh, I speak Spanish," I told him, "It would be nothing for me to take those plates and translate them into English." He was surprised, but agreed, and the plates were duly delivered.

I didn't speak a single word of Spanish and would have been hard put in those days to tell you what 'Hola!' meant. So all I had to work with were the strips themselves and make a guess at what the Spanish meant. I also had to work very quickly, since we were on a weekly schedule. For the fun of it, I also decided to use the names of friends in the science fiction community, which is how you can easily tell which strips are by me and which by the original writer--my story lines, of course, are also subtly different, but they also carry characters like the evil Benford twins (Greg and Jim Benford were then teenagers living with their military dad in Germany), Ken Bulmer, Lars Helander, Ron Bennett and various other well-known UK SF writers and fanzine fans of the day.

Tarzan as originally published

I ran these 'translations' for as long as the Spanish plates kept coming--essentially covering the period where Foster was reaching the end of his work on Tarzan and Hogarth was taking over. Eventually, I left the magazine and the new editor (an octogenarian who had been my assistant and strongly disapproved of most of my policies, which was to run text sword and sorcery stories and new ERB-type strips by Jim Cawthorn) had no such preferences. As I recall, I was delivering one of the last of my 'translations' after I had gone to work for Fleetway and to my surprise saw Cawthorn artwork in the guy's wastepaper basket. Tugging it out, I saw that a couple of my fantasy stories were still attached to the artwork. The new editor told me that 'healthy boys' didn't want that kind of trash. Out went Rakhir, Warrior Priest of Phum and in came 'Jock the Engine Driver' (or some such). Maxon returned. A few months later, to mixed emotions, I heard that the magazine's circulation had slumped and Tarzan was axed. Clearly, not enough healthy boys to support it.

Tarzan as scripted by Michael Moorcock

I think there are examples comparing the original text and my text still available in the image vault of my website, Moorcock's Miscellany. My Spanish hasn't improved a great deal since then but I'm still available for translation work in any language you choose--so long as the artist is Foster, Hogarth or some other artist I admire. And if you don't mind your own name turning up somewhere in the story.

Michael Moorcock

Michael is right; the above comparisons were taken from his fine website, which you can visit by clicking here. And if anyone happens to have copies of the reworked versions I would love to see scans of them.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sam Phone Home

A couple of Sunday’s ago Amanda was out for the day and I was watching the boys. We had a nice time, first running a few errands and then going out to lunch. At 3:00 or so we came home and I settled in with the newspaper while Alex and Sam went upstairs to play and watch cartoons. A couple of hours later I realized that my reading hadn’t been interrupted by any crashes or screams from upstairs. Naturally I became concerned.

I went up to check on them. We have an open area on the second floor that we use as a playroom. Alex was sitting on the floor contentedly watching a DVD. But Sam was nowhere in sight. Usually they are pretty inseparable, Sam sticks to his older brother like glue and Alex includes Sam in most of his shenanigans. I asked Alex if he knew where Sam was and he said he hadn’t seen him in a while. Curious where he got off to I started looking around for him.

I went into their room, no luck. Next stop was our bedroom, followed by the Bathrooms and then the closets. Now I was starting to get a little anxious. I searched around the upstairs, checking every room. No sign of him. I rushed downstairs—maybe he snuck down and I somehow didn’t notice. Nope, he wasn’t on the first floor either. Now I was worried. I hurried to the front door; it was still locked, thank God.

As I headed back up the stairs I was greatly relieved to hear Alex call out “Daddy, I found him.” When I got to the top I looked around but still didn’t see him. Alex, standing in the middle of their playroom, lifted up his arm and pointed. There, in plain sight, was Sam; the little guy had climbed into a toy storage bin filled with some of their stuffed animals and fallen asleep. He was quietly snoring away, no doubt dreaming of Reese’s Pieces, as I settled down with Alex to watch cartoons.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Best Excuse Ever

There’s an old saying in mainstream comics publishing about needing to be two out of three things to get steady work: very good, very fast, very nice. I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise that many of the creators I worked with were very good and very nice. As with anything, there are exceptions; Garth Ennis, for instance, makes the grade on all three.

Being late on an assignment often comes with a story. I’ve heard a lot of excuses, even the comics equivalent of the dog ate my homework. Most are simple matters of life getting in the way. Sometimes they are odd; an editorial acquaintance once told me about a very well known artist who apologized for being late because when he woke up that morning he could not remember how to draw. This prompted the editor to ask said pencil pusher if he would be reacquiring his talent any time soon.

But my favorite “late” story comes from Canada. Kaare Andrews is one of those guys who fall in the very good and very nice category. I love him, can’t say enough about him as an artist and a person. But it’s probably a good idea to have some lead-time built in if you give him an assignment. I don’t want to scare off any prospective editors looking to work with Kaare; he will come through, but quite possibly a little later than one would hope.

So, sometime last year, Kaare had been promising me pages on a project we’d been working on for a while. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Andrews, Renaissance man that he is, had received some monies from a Canadian broadcaster to write and direct a short film called Dream Princess. It stars the lovely Kristin Kreuk, no doubt familiar to many of you as TV’s Lana Lang. Eventually Kaare fessed up and told me about his conflicting assignments. I was genuinely happy for Kaare; this was Wonderful news for him, but a bit unfortunate for my erstwhile book.

As the weeks rolled by, Kaare became harder and harder to reach, and I became more and more stressed. Finally I got a call from my Canuck pal telling me an e-mail was on its way with an attachment that would make me happy. Fully expecting to see jpegs of finished pages, I opened the missive. I was a bit surprised by what popped up in front of me, but not entirely unhappy. And while this isn’t technically an excuse, more of a stall tactic, I think it still qualifies somewhat. It certainly got me off Kaare’s back for another week or two.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I just wanted to post a quick thanks to everyone who e-mailed and called to check on our family last week. We're all fine, we were lucky; the fire never got close enough to be a real danger to us. And Sam is doing better too.

While many of the fires are nearly contained there are numerous families in dire need. Click here if you’d like to make a donation to the Salvation Army’s California wildfire relief fund.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Holding Pattern

Our youngest son, Sam, had some respiratory problems earlier this year. He came through it fine but doctors at Children’s Hospital (Which, by the way, is by far the finest hospital I have ever been too) warned us it could recur. The smoky air has been rough on him so we decided to not take any chances and have him checked out. Just as we were in our driveway strapping the poor kid into his car seat, a neighbor came rushing across the street asking if we got a reverse 911 call.

We had not, and neither did she; but she told us that 211 (the fire information hotline) had our zip code, 92069, listed as mandatory evacuation as of 6:00 tonight. So I called 211 myself and they confirmed that we were to evacuate right now. The odd thing is, we live on a hill and there is no fire or even a faint glow visible in any direction. Plus, this was at 7:30, an hour and a half after the order went into effect—and neither of us got the automated call that so many others have in the last two days.

So I sent Amanda and the kids, with some of our bags in the trunk, down to Children’s Hospital and I drove a half-mile to the fire station. I knocked on the door and two fire men answered. I asked if San Marcos was under order to evacuate. Both looked at me and said no, that if there were danger they would be at the fire site. I told them the 211 hotline listed our area as a danger zone. They went in and phoned their dispatcher, who confirmed there was no mandatory evacuation order in place for us.

I called Amanda to ease her fears and went home. I told our neighbor what the firemen told me. And I called the hotline to tell them of the conflicting information. The woman I spoke to (and I’m amazed they have enough operators on duty to answer a call within 3 rings) checked with her supervisor for a minute and then came back to me on the line; there is a mandatory evacuation order for San Marcos.

Now I sit here writing this blog. Near me are the rest of our packed belongings. Looking through the window I see nothing on the horizon. Hope it stays that way.

New Years Day

Looks like we’re out of harms way, the news is saying San Marcos is currently in no danger. I’ve spoken to several friends today and all seems well with them. Scott Williams and family are okay and back in their house, thank goodness. One of the major pieces of news, at least to me, is that the winds have died down to near normal levels.

I went out this morning to pick up a few things from the local supermarket and Costco. Both were open but nearly every other business I passed was closed. It was like New Years day on the street, just a few cars and no one walking. When I got home my throat hurt. There’s a shroud of smoke in our valley, and a soft rain of ash. But it’s not nearly as bad as other parts of San Diego County. One can only wonder what it must be like at the main evacuation center, at Qualcom Stadium. If I was complaining about being out there for all of 10 minutes what must they be going through? The scope of this thing is nearly incomprehensible; it’s unreal.

But then something hits a little close to home.

Yesterday I had a dentist’s appointment, twice yearly cleaning time. My dentist is in Rancho Bernardo, one of the real hot spots of this thing. I called in the morning to cancel, left a message. Figured they wouldn’t be open—nobody is—but wanted to be polite. An hour ago I got a call from Dr. Marcus’s office to reschedule my appointment. After we handled that I asked how they were, if everyone was okay. The receptionist’s voice cracked a little as she told me everyone in the office was fine but Dr. Marcus lost his home to the fire.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Amanda woke me up this morning at 3:00. The fire that has been ravaging San Diego County for the past 26 hours has grown, and new ones have started up. On the news, Jerry Sanders, the Mayor of San Diego, is saying this looks like it will be the worst fire in the county's history, surpassing the 2003 Cedar fire that destroyed over 2000 homes.

The 15 highway, a major artery that goes to LA and then on to Vegas, is closed for (what I’m guessing from the reports) at least a 10-mile stretch. Wind gusts are being clocked regularly in the 50s, and as high as 69 MPH. Fixed wing aircraft that could combat the fire are grounded because of the winds. One of San Diego’s most famous tourist destinations, the Wild Animal Park, is being evacuated.

The mayor has announced a mandatory evacuation for the area north of highway 56 and between the 5 and 15. That area has enjoyed a huge housing boom over the last decade, thousands of homes have been built there, and many now lie in the path of the fire. My good friend claudia, one of a half dozen people who called to offer us shelter this morning, just told me she is heading home from work because the fire is now moving in her direction. No panic, just preparing in case they have to leave.

So far we've been lucky. 4000 homes in San Marcos, our town, have been evacuated, including a couple occupied by friends. I don’t believe any have burned. As of right now the fire is not coming closer to us; we've gotten no reverse 911 call that instructs residents to get out fast. The smoke is getting closer but the news says the fire in our area has "calmed down.” We've packed up important papers, photo albums, artwork, external hard-drive, trying to figure out what are the most important to us. It's a very slow Sophie's Choice, picking out what we love and need the most. One I hope we don’t have to make.

The view from our front yard

Friday, October 19, 2007

Kyle Baker

Kyle Baker is selling art—go look!

I once infuriated (okay, maybe "made mildly grumpy" would be closer to the truth, heh) my two good pals Mark Badger and Stephen DeStefano by saying Kyle Baker is the closest thing our generation has to Harvey Kurtzman, which may have been worth it even if it wasn't true. But, of course, it is.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Only Real Drawback

About 10 years ago WildStorm and Dark Horse Comics agreed to do a WildC.A.T.s/Aliens X-Over, it was to be the first of several such events featuring various properties (the others never happened, can’t remember why). One of my goals was that this should be a book with lasting effects, unlike the usual cross-company epics that come and go and mean nothing. Since Warren Ellis was wrapping up his run on Stormwatch, before diving into The Authority, I thought it would be an interesting idea to kill off a large portion of the remaining Stormwatch characters, the ones that wouldn’t be moving on to the new book (For those unfamiliar with either series, The Authority sprang from Stormwatch, or what was left of it).

Chris Sprouse and Kevin Nowlan handled the art duties on the book, and they did a splendid job. But it’s not generally known that before Chris was attached, the story was to be penciled by comic’s veteran Gil Kane, who unfortunately had to bow out at the last minute for health reasons.

Kane was a real character, there are a million stories about him floating around, and this one is mine. I had long been a fan of Kane’s work, especially the groundbreaking HIS NAME IS SAVAGE and BLACKMARK. In his long career he drew practically every major character at DC and Marvel. When I asked Gil if he’d be interested in penciling our X-Over he readily agreed, and was especially pleased when I told him I wanted Kevin to ink it, having enjoyed their previous collaborations together.

This goes back to the pre DC days when we were just WildStorm, quite a bit smaller. Things happen at a much more frenzied pace at a small company, such was the case with this book. Thinking the title had potential to be a good seller, John Nee, formerly President of WildStorm and now Senior VP at DC, decided to spring for an ad in Wizard magazine, not an inexpensive proposition. The catch was that the final color file was due in five days and we didn’t have any art yet, not even a sketch. So I called Gil and told him the situation, and that we needed a piece of art fast for the ad.

My idea was to have the image feature two characters, Zealot from the WildC.A.T.s and, from the Dark Horse side, an Alien. It would be dramatic and, more importantly, save time--a full team shot would take longer to draw. I told him I wanted the two characters prominently displayed; on one side would be the Alien, looming large behind Zealot, who has her sword drawn up. I asked Gil to make her expression defiant, not fearful. To establish the location, on the Stormwatch satellite, I asked that he put a porthole somewhere with the Earth visible through it. I had already sent Gil all the reference for the WildC.A.T.s and Stormwatch characters and he said he didn’t need any for the Aliens. He told me he could turn the piece around by the next day and, since time was a major issue, would Fed-ex it directly to Kevin and fax it to me. In the end Gil didn’t send the fax, that old Fed-Ex deadline was too tight for him to make a copy.

The next day I called Kevin to ask him if the piece had arrived. He said it did and that it was beautiful…but he told me I should take a look at it. I hurried to the front reception area and his fax was waiting for me. Just as Kevin said, it was beautiful. Gil, pro that he was, had kept exactly to the layout we discussed; there was Zealot, defiant and slightly turning, a window with the earth visible, and a beautiful Alien towering over her. The only real drawback was that Gil apparently had never heard of the Aliens franchise.

I called up Kevin in a panic and said “What are we gonna do?” to which my old pal replied “Whattaya mean WE, white man?” I told him we had a serious deadline, that I needed him to fix the alien so we could get it to Wizard for our ad. Kevin responded with a groan saying he didn’t want to, that it was too much work. I then said the magic words “I’ll pay you double rate” to which he cheerfully told me he would be happy to oblige.

In the end we made the Wizard deadline by the skin of our teeth, and I got to work with a true legend in comics. It may not have been the whole book but at least I can say Gil Kane did a cover for me. Or, anyway, half of one.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Thought I'd try doing some regular entries to this thing, the first will be going up tomorrow. After that I'll shoot for a new one every Tuesday. If you're looking for dirt and name calling, look elsewhere, plenty of those around. This will be my simple go at telling some (mostly) amusing anecdotes. Many, but not all, will focus on comics. To verify my memory of events, and as a courtesy, I'm going to run these by any involved parties first. Hopefully some people will find them a little entertaining. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Back on the air

As has been reported, I am no longer with WildStorm. Rest assured my family and I are all well and I am optimistic about the future.

I would like to thank Jim Lee and John Nee for their trust, support and friendship over the past 12 years. If there are two finer men in this business I haven't met them. Also, I would like to express my gratitude to all the employees, past and present, who make up the heart of WildStorm, it's been a pleasure to work with each one of you.

Additionally, I've been fortunate enough to be associated with many of the finest creators in comics. The efforts of these very talented folks went a long way in making me look good. I greatly appreciate the loyalty you've shown me over the years and I look forward to working with many of you in the future.

Finally, thanks to all the fans (including all you guys on the WildStorm message boards) for your support, and to all the professionals who have reached out to me. They say you find out who your friends are when something like this happens. You know what? I've got a lot of friends.

Scott Dunbier